April 9, 2019

Thomas Riley Wilderness Park Engagement Session

Sometimes it’s not how far you travel to find the best locations, but how smart you are during your search. That’s what I’ve discovered while shooting in Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park. It’s not too far outside Mission Viejo, the wildlife sanctuary’s natural beauty feels incredibly immersive after short walks through the meadows and forests. It’s a great balance of accessibility and peacefulness that make it one of the best wilderness spots for couple photo-shoots.

couple enjoying the nature of Riley Wilderness Park

couple Kissing in Green fields at riley park

green fields of riley wilderness parkThe most important thing to take into account when planning for any wilderness shoot is timing. Beyond the importance of lighting, going during a high-traffic time can be the kiss of death for a comfortable, convenient photo session. No one likes having to share a special moment like that with hikers or mountain bikers, which is why I prefer weekdays for my shoots. There’s hardly anyone on the trails during the week, giving Riley’s unique atmosphere room to breathe.

couple holding each other in southern califronia nature

couple kissing each other dressed up in nature

After a healthy dose of rain, Riley’s color pallet gushes with deep green. The rolling hills and open prairies can take on an almost fantastical quality, but not in a way that overwhelms the couple being photographed. The grass and trees effectively block out the outside world, but you don’t have to be a professional outdoorsman to navigate these trails.

walking the path of Thomas Riley wilderness park

holding hands walking in the green fields

It’s often challenging to find intimate, unique locations that aren’t hazardous people who aren’t wearing hiking boots and a camel pack, but Riley manages to have the best of both worlds. There’s actually some wooden roads to keep you off of the dirt, but even the dirt trails are well-trodden and easy to walk in. The wide open spaces give me a lot of freedom of shot composition, while the couple can walk naturally without worrying about stray branches or potholes. Even going off the trail proves risk free, as the fields remain relatively stable and don’t get too messy.

candid images of couple at riley wilderness park

Riley’s mixture of forestry and grassy makes for a great variety of lighting options. Overhead tree canopies provide natural shade during the day, but man—those miles of open land practically explode with color as the sun sets! There are ideal spots for every time of day, offering the chance for that perfect shot.

couple sitting together at riley wilderness park

Having done wedding shoots in spots near and far from home, I’ve come to appreciate how ideal Riley is for those who want to escape with their spouse-to-be and just be themselves during a photo session. Entering the wilderness on a weekday is stunningly silent, yet warmly welcoming. Some of the most heartwarming shots I’ve taken are simply of two lovers simply enjoying each other’s company in a gorgeous scenery.

black and white image of engagement session at riley park

engaged and happy in nature

Riley has that fairytale charm you might expect from the larger and deeper wildernesses, without not having to travel halfway around the world to find a little slice of paradise.

couple holding each other in the fields of riley park
1. What made you guys decide to do an engagement session?

We knew we wanted to do an engagement session to have some professional photos for our Save the Dates and our welcome table at the wedding. But the engagement session also gave us the opportunity to spend time with you (our photographer) before you shoot our big day. You get to know us a little better and vise versa.

in the moment with each other
2. What was the biggest worry you had when it came to the engagement shoot?

We are both pretty shy and do not get to spend a lot of time in front of the camera. Posing and “looking perfect” sounded intimidating, but in reality, some of our favorite photos are the candid little moments.

nature engagement shoot riley wilderness park
3. What made you decide Riley Wilderness Park?We liked the idea of a natural scape for our photos, and Riley Wilderness Park has a lot of variety – from billowing trees to grass fields. It is also an easy location to get to, and on a weekday, it is almost completely empty. All the recent rain made the area so green, but its beautiful year round.

sitting and being cute engagement shoot

4. What are a few things you can recommend to future couples planning their engagement session?

First, we think all couples should plan an engagement session, especially with their wedding photographer just to get the nerves. Relax and be your authentic self during the session. We spent most of the session telling each other jokes and interacting like we normally would. Next, don’t be afraid to dress up a little because nothing is more fun than running around in the woods in formalwear!

candid engagement session

Contact ME to book your session!


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